Nursery children
File photo: Children gesture as they sit in a playing circle at their kindergarten in Hanau, Germany Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

A protest by Muslim parents against a gay man looking after their children at a kindergarten has led to a public debate in Berlin.

The parents of preschool children in the northern district of Reinickendorf threatened to gather names for a petition against the kindergarten when they found out that one of the nursery teachers was gay.

Because of the protest, the man request a transfer to another kindergarten. But the management instead gave the parents the choice: either accept that a gay man would look after their children, or put their kids into a different preschool.

According to Tagesspiegel, the parents had a problem with the fact that the young man was in physical contact with their children and would take them to the toilet.

"For some of them, a gay man is automatically a paedophile," the nursery teacher told Tagesspiegel.

Many of the parents have since taken their offspring out of the kindergarten.

The case has led to a public discussion on the difficulties homosexuals face in gaining employment in primary and preschools.

"The general suspicion against males becomes even more potent against gay educators," Stephanie Nordt, a spokeswoman for the initiative Queerformat, an organisation which provides classes on gender and sexuality in education.

There was support for the teacher on Twitter.

"It's important to show our colours! For tolerance, for teachers, homosexuals and the LGBT community. Don't give homophobia a chance!" wrote Green party supporter Christoph Peschke.

The outcry has also led to a response from the capital city's government.

"We don't tolerate discrimination. We want to raise the number of male kindergarten teachers so that they become important role models for children," said Sandra Scheeres, the senator for education from the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).

Scheeres said that she did not know of another case in Berlin in which a gay nursery teacher was discriminated against, but added that "again and again, parents treat male nursery teachers with suspicion."